Near Mohawk to New Mexico

Sleep was good but the slow sunrise in the desert was even more of a treat and I’ll watch the sun shine through empty train cars while Caleb puts the tent away. We’ll pull over for our morning walk, something that’s been a part of my day since we had dogs, and is why we still enjoy our evening walks, now without them. Getting out is to the soul what oxygen is to the lungs — refreshing.

We continue east to the Dwarf Car Museum where we take our time outside exploring rusted parts, license plates, and a pet cemetery before going inside to see the cars, more license plates, and toy cars. There are two guys and a cat, that looks like a smoker, watching the shop and they share some of the history and famous visitors that have made their way to this part of the desert.

We stop for more photo opportunities before getting to Biosphere 2, Earth being number 1, where eight people volunteered in the name of science in 1991 to spend two years confined together in an enclosed space representing a rainforest, an ocean with a coral reef, mangroves, a savanna, a fog desert, and a living area with laboratories contained in a little over three acres.

The facility was built to test humans’ ability to live in outer space and they experienced animal deaths, a lack of oxygen, and a food shortage which added to the tension. None of that is felt now as we walk up to the rainforest building that looks like a glass mountain so that the plants have plenty of access to sunlight. The experiments performed here inspired the film Bio-Dome in 1996, which might have made a few kids think about a future in research and preservation, but received terrible reviews.

It would be 24 years until a documentary, Spaceship Earth, was made on the brink of a worldwide quarantine into our homes and grocery stores and out of our routine of mass gatherings and small get togethers. But I’m not thinking about this while I stare into my reflection as I try to capture the beauty of the plants growing against the glass, metal, and rubber that keeps them steamy from their dry biome surroundings.

Looking at the kitchen, I imagine Caleb and me living here and wonder who else we would want to be stuck with cooking us dinner every eighth day and gathering enough coffee beans to share a cup every two weeks. The Biospherians went to the doctor every eight weeks for physicals and were able to maintain contact with family via a computer and phone.

There are three large artificial landscapes that make up the Landscape Evolution Observatory, so that scientists can better understand and measure where water goes in the landscape during precipitation and evaporation and how better to move this valuable resource to offset the negative effects of droughts and shortages in the future.

It’s one thing to see this place, but I can’t look at the rooms as individuals and not think about all the work it takes to keep this biosphere running properly — temperature alarms, goats on the loose, taking seed inventory, cleaning the office, and measuring coral health, etc. every day. The tour is too short, but that usually seems the case when you don’t want something to end or know there’s more to be explored.

I’ve been to Mt Lemmon once before and remember the magic its elevation brought me as I made my ascent and I wanted to share that with Caleb as we attempted our way into the Coronado National Forest but turned around at the 24 minutes to traverse a five-mile dirt road, one-way, being on limited time for this trip and not knowing how close that road would bring us to hiking the 9,159-foot mountain.

Our route instead will take us to an unknown gift shop for hot jerky, spicy jam, and flavored pistachios before reaching Bowie. Here, we will walk by a boarded up Skeet’s Tavern, the charred remains of a house, and the empty, overgrown tennis courts at the high school before we explore the abandoned basement of The Teepee, which used to serve lunch and offer karaoke. Now, it would make a great backdrop for a horror film.

We enter New Mexico and are greeted with a palm tree wearing a bra and warning signs of what to do in a dust storm — swerve all over the road, speed up and hit the brakes a lot, remove seatbelt, and enter full panic mode — though that might just be the most severe case of dyslexia or disobedience, so you should probably read the signs for yourself the next time you’re in The Land of Enchantment.

But we don’t stop there. We drive through and reach Texas at 730pm as I start to get tired after a 500-mile day and look for a place to sleep. I think I’ve found a state park but the gate is closed and the highway closer, so Caleb will drive us to a rest stop an hour away and set up our bed in the car after not finding a smooth enough surface for the tent. I’ll get in a nice walk while he does this and he’ll join me before we climb in for the night.

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Getting Out of State

After a year of working at the hospital, in the limited duty department, Caleb was finally able to get orders to be an engineer again as long as he signed up for another year past his original retirement date of November 2023. Bahrain and Singapore were not an option, though he asked and waited for anything overseas, it would be back to LCS where he traveled last time to Alabama frequently and this time has the option of Singapore and Guam; which would be a new country for me.

Anyway, with a transfer comes a leave period (a military vacation) but instead of our usual one month break we could only take the one week that my job would allow, so we made the most of those nine and a half days. Cutting out the other seven days we had planned will give us something to look forward to on our next adventure, this one including our 14th anniversary.

We pack the car and leave by 5pm on a Friday. We’ll get as far east on Highway 8 as Exit 54 in Arizona which leaves us on a dirt road with space for setting up the tent versus sleeping in the car at the Mohawk Rest Area. We passed the miles by listening to tunes from our youth; when we were 15 to 25 years old. Dad calls back and it’s always nice to hear his voice, even if I don’t agree with what he’s saying, while I stare at the stars over the mountain peaks.

I’ll return to camp and climb in the tent that Caleb set up so that we can listen to Satan’s train drag metal across the desert. The next train sounds like it ran into the mountain and then drove over the broken rocks and glass. These are the joys of travel and camping. These are moments we look forward to turning into memories. We are so lucky to have these stories.

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CAMP

MONDAY
This has been a busy week for me. Today was a holiday, so we spent the day returning from our weekend getaway, baking, cleaning, doing laundry, talking with my sister, getting the oil changed and the car washed, eating homemade crusted mushrooms and slices of a cinnamon fruit bread, and me wearing a coat on our evening walk while Caleb wore shorts in 50 degree weather.

TUESDAY
I get the day off to take care of my contacts appointment, that wasn’t until 11am, so I will spend the day blogging before the rain comes down and Caleb gets home early. I’m glad that I’m not only excited to hug him but still need cuddle time with him as he unwinds from another workday. We’re a week and a half away from our 14-year anniversary and I still love spending time with this man.

WEDNESDAY
This morning will start rough and early (yay being a woman) but I’m able to go back to sleep and wake up next to Caleb, which is rare on a weekday, but we both told work that we’d be coming in late today. I make us breakfast and Caleb showers while I do the dishes, even though that lessens the water pressure. He’ll leave his car at work and I’ll pick him up at 830am.

I drive us to the Del Mar Fairgrounds, pay our $10 parking fee, and wait in the car after some exploration to escape the harsh winds while we wait for our timed ticket entrance to Beyond Van Gogh — an immersive experience. They let in about 20 people every 15 minutes and then you can take your time reading the panels of his life, many are surprised to learn that he had a brother.

The neat thing about being in a large space is the ability to walk amongst Vincent’s broad brush strokes and imagine his inspiration, to walk at different angles and see his paintings from a different view, even if they are out of proportion and larger than life. Some sit, others stand, and quite a few can’t put their phones down, but we focus on the transitions and the details and fall in love with his view.

I’ll get to work and clock in at 1120am. It will be 4pm before I’m walking to my car, feeling weak from forgetting to eat lunch or bring a snack. Caleb will tell me I sounded drunk on the phone. I’ll pick up more CO2 on the way home, getting a bottle half price for returning an empty, and doing our part to reduce trash and diabetes in the world by making our drinks in bulk without added sugar.

THURSDAY
This must be my week as after helping install a 40-gallon water heater that weighs 120 pounds empty, and over 450 pounds full, because it was leaking in the clients garage, I’m given the rest of the day off before noon. I’ll take this time to visit Lisa, my hairdresser, and ask her to perm my hair — a first for me even though I looked adorable at a middle school dance with my hair in curls.

I walk to the beach to let my hair air-dry and love the volume and bounce of my new look. Caleb walks up and seems hesitant of my new do, but this isn’t the first time I’ve surprised him with something drastic and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Caleb reads The Brindle Dragon, a ten book series, while I read Cyber War: The next threat to national security and what to do about it; seems fitting.

FRIDAY
I enjoy an early morning walk to the beach, benefits of living so close, so I want to take advantage while I can. The rest of my morning will be spent in Home Depot and a fancy Ace Hardware getting the required equipment to finish some turnover repairs — loose kitchen faucet, new flappers in the toilets, new CO2 alarm, towel rack installation, etc.

The afternoon is more above my pay grade as paperwork and finances are figured out. I get home and while Fallon works on her math homework, I’ll take her girls, who love my hair, to the Dollar Tree to get out of the house for an hour; the conversations are more interesting as they get older. The girls invite me to dinner but Caleb is already busy at the stove upon my return at sunset.

SATURDAY
A slow start as the places we’re planning on seeing today don’t open until later. I’ll add putting in contacts to my routine, but I probably should’ve done so before putting on sunscreen. The museum at the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá is closed for renovations, but the church and gardens are nice. This is the first of 21 missions that the Spanish built in the 18th century to convert local Indians to Roman Catholicism.

The next place is much more educational and enjoyable to me, the Olaf Wieghorst Museum in El Cajon where the painter, one of his many talents, spent his last 44 years becoming the highest-paid living artist of his time, in 1988, by selling the Navajo Madonna for $450k. He was friends with John Wayne and acted in two films, had three presidents purchase his paintings, and only one piece doesn’t portray a horse.

An afternoon za’atar flatbread and other snacks will be had from Alforon Mediterranean Lebanese restaurant to curb our Middle Eastern cravings and our appetite until we get home in the late afternoon. The authenticity of this place has earned it awards in San Diego, on Yelp, a spot on Diners Drive-ins and Dives, and handwritten accolades in at least four languages.

SUNDAY
Today’s adventure starts at the San Diego Firehouse Museum that opens at 10am for self-guiding and questions answered as wanted. It’s neat to see a hand drawn fire engine that was La Jolla’s only protection from flames for eight years in the early 1900’s. It’s also interesting to get a look at the felt parade hats, fire hydrant molds, ceremonial trumpets, and their fancy collection of salt water grenades.

We sat behind the wheel for a moment in the truck on display in the street, old enough to have no top but not too old for guests, and imagined we were in a parade a hundred years ago before wondering in to the Museum of Contemporary Art SD. Some of the artists on exhibit are Joan Jonas, Math Bass, Ilana Savdie, and Yolanda López.

It’s López’s Three Generations: Tres Mujeres that captures my eye the most. She took three renderings of each woman and sketched them on butcher paper with charcoal — like what I imagined my outline looked when I did a full-body self portrait in kindergarten and had a classmate trace my little body. I’ve only got one picture of me with the three women who came before.

We move from downtown to Old Town to visit The Whaley House built in 1856 that served as San Diego’s cultural center for less than a century before it became a museum. It is known for being the oldest brick structure in Southern California, that’s also haunted. We begin our tour in the court room before seeing the store room and multi-curtained theatre stage room in addition to the rest of the house.

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Glasses and Contacts

As much as I forget how old I am, because I look and feel so young, my body is keeping count of the years and maintaining processes that come with the success of age and annual birthdays. This Valentine’s Day, instead of being gifted a heart-shaped box of chocolates, I was picking up my pink-framed, transitional lenses that would bring my sight from very-slightly blurry to super crisp.

I know my dad will read this, or at least look at the picture, and recall a time he recommended I get glasses. I’m sure I went to the optometrist the next day, upon returning from my visit, and was told I could but they weren’t necessary. That was probably years ago. A week and a half before picking up my prescription I allowed Caleb to give me an amateur eye exam using a can of nuts from a distance and realized I needed glasses now as I took a step or two closer than him to read the flavor.

I proudly wore my glasses home, to work, to the store, etc. as I adjusted to it being too bright outside, at first, and too dark inside, as the lenses adjusted. I think they’re cute, but they also cost more than all my prior sunglasses purchases of 15 years combined so I was nervous to wear them around paint and other hazards that might cause me to have to buy another pair so soon. There’s also the issue of keeping them clean, which seems impossible, and not scratching them in the process.

Then I got to thinking about all the times, outside of work, that it might be inconvenient to wear them and Caleb told me he’s not used to me wearing glasses yet… I get it. My mom didn’t want to wear glasses as a sign she was aging, but I don’t want to deal with headaches as my eyes try to adjust what seems to be just out of focus, like trying to read this first thing in the morning or with a severe hangover. I recently passed a driving test and the doctor said I was fine, so it’s barely noticeable to anyone else, and happened so gradually that I barely noticed the change myself.

I went in for a contacts appointment, which I didn’t know was a separate occasion, where they teach you how to use them before prescribing them. The doctor said that my blindness was the least amount possible and that he didn’t want to take my money, so I walked out without being seen thinking it would be ok, but I thoroughly enjoy being able to read longer again, stare at my screen, and read things further away with ease. I called the office back and made another appointment.

I sit down and practically shove my money in the doctor’s face, so to speak, as this will not be covered by my insurance. He’s not yet convinced, but has someone sit down with me as I’ll be required to poke a curved silicon hydrogel lens into each eye, twice! The eye doctor assistant is super patient while I attempt to peel back the lids around my tiny sockets and pull the contact out without scratching my retina. He suggests I cut my nails and stare straight forward; don’t blink.

I pass the test, reassure the doctor that I do want to wear contacts, and that I’ll be back next week after having worn them daily to get my new prescription. My appointment is in two days, just two weeks after getting glasses. It took me five minutes yesterday to get the contacts in as there’s definitely a learning curve, but one I’m willing to lean into; along with remembering to blink so my eyes don’t dry.

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In Search of Silence

SATURDAY
Some people spend the weekend looking for distractions but after a busy week of dealing with the noisy other, Caleb and I find our escape in the peace of the desert. There is a calm here that is covered in sand, rocks, remains, shrubs, lizard poo, and the heat of the sun. Caleb was given coordinates to an alien abduction that we decided to see for ourselves.

Getting out of town was easy as we grabbed our bag of clothes and toiletries, bag of snacks and meals, and bags of sleeping gear to toss in the back of the car only to have them work their way towards our seats for easier grabbing access. We’re still experimenting with the best meals to pack on longer hikes and want more freeze-dried fruits and veggies on those menus.

We drive west on the I8 and forget to stop for the Imperial Valley Desert Museum, less than 14 miles from the Desert View Tower to which I’ve been to at least twice. This already gives us something to come back for. We pass through El Centro and stop to watch the four-wheelers chase each other over the sand at North Algodones Dunes Wilderness Area.

This is a sport better participated in than watched but also one where someone leaves in an ambulance due to broken helmets, collar bones, and arms; but that’s more probably the bikers. After this, we head towards the California/Arizona border and the Colorado River to test the temperature in this season and region. We’re near the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, more for where the road turns than the park.

There’s plenty of parking and a giant wash. It’s a bit of a walk before we find a route to the river that doesn’t include climbing a sandbank to get back to the car. We enjoy the quiet exploration as we continue to peak through bushes and over ditches in our search to touch the water; it’s still cold. I won’t be jumping in today as I might come out a moss-covered zombie, not that I don’t smell like one now.

Next stop, Tranny Porn Ville. Somewhere on a dirt road in Imperial County lies a stash of VHS tapes, the 80s and 90s version of online streaming before DVDs were released in 1997. It was almost as if everything was there but the walls of whatever structure these participants called home. Across the road, a rusted empty canned goods collectors dream as far as our eyes could see.

We walked the wreckage for a while finding curiosity and joy in some of the trinkets nature has left behind as these monuments to mankind have been forgotten about for future archaeologists to ponder over how one place could have use for so much aluminum, rubber, film, plastic, cotton, and metal objects with bullet holes in them and the casings dropped to add to the collection.

We find a parking spot further down the road and walk towards the sun, for hours. To some this may seem boring, annoying, disappointing, etc., but to us it is meditation, a retreat, a vacation. We take turns sharing Caleb’s hat as I only brought one to keep my head warm and not the sun from my face. We feel the small rocks crunch, the big rocks poke, and the slight breeze when we turn around.

We see the scratches on our exposed skin as we find the best way through this unmarked land that is more common for off-road vehicles and those in search of geodes. We find our alien abduction and the obligatory selfie is taken as proof before we put our backs toward the sun and return towards the red hills where we can find a camping spot by sunset and stare at the stars in the Milky Way.

SUNDAY
It’s so dark and quiet but our city ways of being woken by car lights and sirens stick with us and we awaken through the night, both of us thinking it’s daylight each time. I’m grateful for our watches, but being this close to the border and the time zone difference they have also proven less than trustworthy with the exact hour. Our bodies do not fail us though and I’m out of the tent as the sun crests the hill.

I make coffee and breakfast while Caleb packs up our mobile bedroom. We had thought we would go farther into the desert, but unlike camels who can go days without water, our car can’t go a mile without gas. We had enough to make it back for the $5.39/gallon fill but chose to make it further out, whether we were going three or 23mph this bumpy terrain doesn’t offer an increasing miles to the gallon.

We’ll park and use the road as our trail instead as we have no traffic to worry about on this beautiful morning. It’s moments like this, one hand warm each, as we think about the cold clothes we put on and the steaming coffee we have yet to sip, that we appreciate finding each other and having so much in common but being so different and making so many memories together.

I thought we might go to Anza-Borrego area which is why I took us south instead of going north of the Salton Sea to deliver us to hiking in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. Yesterday we were on the lookout for tortoises and tarantulas, today it will be bighorn sheep and rattlesnakes, and though we see none this won’t stop us from trying.

I’m grateful for Caleb’s ability to read a map, whether it be via dirt paths, a paper book, or online he has a way of not getting lost… most of the time. That’s also why I prefer an outline of an itinerary when we travel so there’s less to worry about if we do get detoured, delayed, or distracted. We stop at the SR & SJM National Monument for the mountains on the Pines to Palms Highway.

We stop at vista points along the way and one offers more than the others — the oral history of the Cahuilla people and 21 interpretive panels that describe how they continue to use the living landscape. We stop at a campsite, part sun, part breeze and use the remaining daylight to cook dinner and setup the tent. The wind is still increasing and the clouds spreading over the few stars we can see.

Had the cloudy sky been any prediction of the Strong Breeze (25 to 31mph) that would wake us in the middle of the night we could’ve looked for a large rock or grove of trees to hide behind. We both know that this is something we’ll have to deal with on longer hikes and just stick it out in the tent, but with the option to leave, we take it.

The plan had been to do more hiking in the morning before returning home to chores before the week of work, but we’re greeted with a change-your-oil light and a storm warning upon starting the car. The rain will tease us on the ride home while the orange light flashes a constant reminder to tend to the needs of my vehicle soon — just as soon as the place down the street can get me in.

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